The Wordery:

42 (Meaning of Life)..

42 Ever heard that the answer to the question, "What is the meaning of life..?" is "42"..? Ever wondered what the hell that is supposed to mean? Well allow me to elucidate because I think the answer is quite clever. Well..if you're a science fiction-loving computer nerd.

Any sci-fi fan worth their salt will have heard of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy written by the late Douglas Adams. He was never on time for anything. I first became a fan - as many did - through the brilliant 1978 BBC radio series, which came before the books. The novels were record-breaking successes and films and other formats were massive.

In the story, a supercomputer named Deep Thought is asked to explain the meaning of life and after an eon of calculations, burps out the profound answer - 42! And ever since many have speculated what this deep-but-apparently-simple response might mean. Well I had the good fortune to meet Douglas Adams - in a sci-fi bookshop in London of all places - and ask him myself.

It turns out that in addition to being a very successful writer of humerous science fiction, Douglas is also something of a computer nerd, like myself. Within the esoteric world of IT is an established method of coding characters electronically called ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange - for all the insufferable, computery, word-geeks). In this coding system, numbers are allocated to various printable characters and the number 42 is allocated to the asterisk, thus:   *   (Gasp! I even had to use the ASCII code to get it to appear on this page - what fun!).

In the world of computers the asterisk is used variously and universally as a digital wild-card and can represent, well anything you like. And that's the point. The answer to, "What is the meaning of life..?" is just that: Anything you like... So now you know.

 

AndyM


Got any favourite words? Or numbers. Why not submit them for inclusion..

The Wordery: Musings and anecdotes from a Word Nerd ..

Malapropism
Mondegreen
Spoonerism
Schadenfreude
42
Merkin
Thespian


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